Mini-reviews of middle-grade and young adults books we're reading now.
I Kill the Mockingbird. Three friends harness the power of social media and supply and demand to get people to read To Kill a Mockingbird to honor the memory of a beloved English teacher. The plot, however, intrigued me less than the role of Catholicism in the main character's life, something I have never seen in fiction, for adults or children. Rather than emphasize the rites and rituals of Catholicism (which do appear in fiction), the author portrays Catholicism as a guiding philosophy, and a very beautiful one at that. "We're taught [in Catholic school] that sometimes the world is a puzzle waiting for us to solve it. Other times it's a mystery to appreciate and accept." The protagonist's father says, "I don't believe that God has motives that we are supposed to understand or enjoy." Lucy responds "But you still say thank you." Her father rejoins, "Good manners never hurt anybody." And at the end, Lucy explains the concept of Ordinary Time. "In our church calendar, Ordinary Time is when we're supposed to be living our lives without feasting or penance or other drama. It's not a quiet time exactly. It's more like the days are supposed to be filled with expectation." This novel's real gift is in bringing these concepts to young readers, whatever their religion. And it has a great cover!
We Were Liars. Compulsively readable, this novel's much ballyhooed "twist ending" felt more like a gimmick to me. Perhaps if I read it again, I will find some foreshadowing that would make it more plausible? This is a young adult novel, with themes of romance, death, and guilt.
Like No Other. This modern Romeo and Juliet story of a Hasidic girl falling in love with a black boy in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has a happier ending than the Shakespeare play, but is not what you expect. Devorah is a strong character who knows her own heart and mind. It sounds cheesy, right? It's not, I promise. I loved it. And it has another great cover.
Another Day as Emily. Written in free verse about a girl who decides to become a hermit like Emily Dickinson when her younger brother commands attention for saving an ill neighbor by calling 911, this middle-grade novel was enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable.
Ava and Pip. I had high hopes for this middle-grade novel about two sisters, the younger outgoing and social, the older one shy to the point of having emotional problems. A good read, but nothing more, although my 9-year-old enjoyed it. Word lovers will love the family's obsession with palindromes - hence the names Ava and Pip.
Have you or your kids read any of these? What did you think?